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Defending Mitchell

The scandal that reveals Australia’s real moral crisis

6 February 2016

9:00 AM

6 February 2016

9:00 AM

What’s worse: getting so off your nut on booze that you somehow find yourself dry-humping a dog for two seconds, or conspiring to destroy a man’s career and make money and a media splash in the process? Those with a working moral compass will, I hope, agree it’s the latter. That where getting hammered is forgivable (let he who has never been pissed cast the first beer bottle), seeking to pummel a man’s public standing just because he did a stupid drunken thing in private is nasty, and un-Australian.

This is about Mitchell Pearce, of course, the rugby league star who after necking a thousand-odd schooners on Australia Day went back to someone’s house with his mates and did some weird stuff: mock-shagged a dog; urinated on himself; snogged a girl he barely knew.It wasn’t exactly gentlemanly behaviour, but it was hardly depravity of Caligulan proportions. I saw worse back in my youthful boozing days. A friend once pretended to screw a car: there was actual penis/exhaust pipe touching. As for pissing oneself after too many drinks, I thought everyone had done that at some point? No? Just Mitchell Pearce and me? Please.

But what Pearce did to that dog, and on that couch, pales into insignificance when compared with the follow-up antics of the Pearce-hunters. That’s the great irony: tut-tutters and pearl-clutchers slam Pearce’s immoral behaviour while behaving in a far more immoral way than he did on that beery, blurry night.

Sure, he got so blotto that he uttered the words ‘I wanna f— your dog, I don’t even care anymore’ — which I think is officially as drunk as a bloke can get — but at least he didn’t wilfully, cynically try to destroy another human being for making a mistake, eh? All those hacks demanding that Pearce be more severely punished are playing a part in something far more sinister than poor Pearce could ever concoct.

‘Thinking about selling [the video] to the daily mail to end his career.’ It’s not yet known if that text message, allegedly sent by a reveller at the Pearce party, is real. It’s being investigated by the NRL, after being exposed in the press.

If it is real, then all those supposedly upright (uptight?) observers berating Pearce, and by extension every other bogan rugby bloke, are the unwitting enablers of a dark, malevolent campaign to bring down a man by exposing to the world a daft thing he did behind closed doors. I’d rather be known for having once pretended to bonk a dog than for being involved in something as wicked as that. Even if the text message isn’t real, it’s still the case that media moralists are publicly shaming a man for something he did in private, and that smacks a little bit of Stalinism.

The punishment lust of the Pearcephobics is extraordinary. They seem to want him to pay forever for his hammered misdemeanour. Rebecca Wilson says he has been a ‘protected species’ for too long — always with the animal metaphors for sporting blokes — and now he ‘must not play rugby league for a very long time’. The irony of journalists demanding the sacking of someone for going ballistic on booze — if such a standard were extended to the media, there’d be no one left.

Catharine Lumby, gender issues adviser to NRL (what?), said Pearce’s Australia Day antics should mark ‘the end of his career’. His behaviour was ‘totally out of step with community standards’, she said. He was drunk! At a party! What sort of intolerable bore behaves in line with community standards at a late-night shindig? Remind me never to accept an invitation to a Lumby soirée.

Sinisterly, Lumby said Pearce’s behaviour confirms there are ‘attitudes and behaviours’ in the sporting world that need ‘changing’. Who do these people think they are? If you are more outraged by a young drunk dude making fun of a dog than you are by a gender nonsense spouter promoting the re-education of what she unilaterally decrees to be Problematic Blokes, then you need to have a word with yourself. Even when Pearce apologised, it wasn’t enough. His televised statement was ‘not good enough’, said the Daily Telegraph. Sure, he looked ‘shattered and contrite’, but the paper wanted a longer, deeper expression of self-disgust, because ‘thirty seconds is not going to cut it in this environment’. The demand that a broken man break down even more is far more repulsive than taking a leak on someone’s sofa.

The Pearce scandal has indeed exposed a profound moral crisis, a collapse of ‘community standards’ — not in sport, but in the media, and in society more broadly. It confirms we’re living in a century of the snitch, where everyone’s mobile phone can become a mini, Orwell-style telescreen for the capture of private speech and actions. It shows that the press is only too willing to splash these telescreen images across the front pages and demand that the sinners captured in them repent as publicly as possible. It reveals that the line between private and public has been dangerously erased, so that a man can now have his reputation battered for something he did at night, at a party, in a house, away from the spotlight. That’s the real scandal here: that we’ve become a gaggle of spies, taking and selling footage of a bloke having fun.

It brings to mind the Barry Spurr scandal. The exposure of Spurr’s private emails and the revelation of Pearce’s beer-fuelled behaviour speak to the same nasty modern fashion for peering into people’s private lives and shaming them publicly for their inner thoughts, their sexual preferences, their drinking habits.

You want to talk about ‘community standards’? What about the basic standard of letting people live their lives as they see fit so long as they aren’t committing any crimes? What about the unwritten code that says ‘Don’t film people without their consent and then sell the footage’? What about not poking about in people’s emails and exposing what you find to a titillation-hungry media?

Yes, that Pearce party revealed a moral crisis in Australia: a crisis of blokeish decency and respect for privacy, which is now so pronounced that a man is being publicly ‘shattered’ simply for having got slaughtered in private. The shame is not Pearce’s; it’s everyone else’s.

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